Written and Directed by Anthony Desiato
Located in an ordinary strip mall in Scarsdale, New York, Alternate Realities is a throwback to the pre-Internet days when comic book stores thrived. Its cramped aisles are filled with the latest releases plus memorabilia that’s unlikely to sell but adds just the right touch. This is not a clean, trendy corporate store designed to capitalize on the latest geek trends. Opened in 1992 by former lawyer Steve Oto, Alternate Realities takes on the personality of its enigmatic, intriguing owner. He entered this business after being laid off from his corporate law job, and the rest is history. The store continues to thrive today, a surprising achievement in an era when independent shops are becoming a rare commodity.
Alternate Realities is warmly depicted in Anthony Desiato’s My Comic Shop DocumentARy, an enjoyable look at its employees and customers. Arranged largely as a series of interviews, it paints an interesting picture of both the shop and the people who love it. Desiato is a third-year law student but has worked at Alternate Realities for 10 years. This personal connection is evident throughout the film and helps him to draw plenty of worthy material. It also gives him an insider’s perspective on the unique parts of the back story. He separates the movie into a series of chapters that maintain a light tone while making sure the key elements are covered.
Two of the most entertaining chapters cover oddball characters that are legendary at Alternate Realities. The first is Jeff, the shop’s most legendary customer because of his ability to spin tall tales. His lies are very elaborate and involve SWAT teams, numerous kills, and other probable lies. No one is really sure where the truth falls within his crazy stories. The other legendary figure is Jay, an antique-store seller who spends a good deal of time at the store. This older guy is a quote machine and is clearly loved by Desiato and the gang for his grumpy demeanor. There are too many other participants to mention, but they all share a passion for comics and Alternate Realities. One highlight involves the wives and moms, who aren’t all fans of this dedication. A fun example is Sean and Marisa, who clearly doesn’t care for his interest in comics. When asked how much he should spend on comics per year, her honest response is “I think you should not buy comics.” By going inside the homes of customers, Desiato expands the story to beyond Oto and makes it a more interesting film.
– Dan Heaton